Two Cariboo-Chilcotin chiefs participated in a historic conversation on rights and respect for Indigenous peoples taking place in Vancouver on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, and Secwepemc, Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars were invited to speak at Finding the Path to Shared Prosperity UNDRIP 2020 which focused on legislation in B.C. to incorporate the 46 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) principles into provincial law and public policy.
The sold-out event had 550-plus people attend.
Alphonse said Canada was one of the last countries to sign on to UNDRIP and believes that it wasn’t until the Tsilhqot’in won their Supreme Court of Canada rights and titles case in 2014 that the B.C. government began to recognize UNDRIP in a meaningful way.
“We have a big influence on that here in B.C. and Canada,” Alphonse told the Tribune. “There is still a lot of work that has to happen and it’s not going to happen overnight. All the legislation and laws have to align now and that is where the real work begins.”
Indigenous people have been ignored for too long in Canada, he added.
“We are not against development but some of our people are living in third world conditions. This workshop will focus on how to approach First Nations in a respectful way. Come in early, come to our doors and work with us. Gone are the days of industry pushing its way through.”
For every First Nations community in Canada the needs are great around health, water, housing and dentistry as examples, Alphonse said, noting government funding to First Nations communities isn’t close to being adequate.
After winning the rights and title case Alphonse said he never imagined it would go as far as it has to inspire change.
“We will continue to make sure in our territories that the principles of UNDRIP are followed.”
Sellars, who was elected as chief in 2018, said the fact B.C. is working toward legislating the UNDRIP principles shows how far the province is ahead of other provinces in moving toward reconciliation.
“Historically Williams Lake does not have good First Nations and non-First Nations relationships and we have all been trying to bridge that gap,” Sellars told the Tribune. “UNDRIP 2020 sounds sexy, but it’s really an education piece that is going to give people a nudge and help us move in that right direction.”
In the past Sellars has been asked by politicians when reconciliation with First Nations will be achieved and said that he has replied that even with the implementation of UNDRIP it is still generations away.
“It will help for sure, but probably won’t happen in my generation. I don’t think so anyway.”
Responding once to a non-First Nations politician who said, ‘We paid you,’ Sellars answered it is not going to be achieved through a cheque.
“Reconciliation is about education and UNDRIP is one of those tools that is going to help get us there.”
The Williams Lake Indian Band, the City of Williams Lake and the Cariboo Regional District have been meeting to form positive relationships that have grown ten-fold in the last five years, Sellars added.
“It’s definitely exciting times,” he added. “I didn’t realize how big of a conference it was when I was first asked to speak. They had 550 tickets and they sold out and people are clambering to get into it.”